Harp in the South
Roslyn Packer Theatre

This year’s epic

I tend to have fairly limited tolerance for books, plays, and movies that are overly long. For me, a three-hour movie has to have something pretty damn special to say or I’m thinking that the editors were overruled. Same goes for books and plays.

Every so often something is truly worthy. And at almost six hours – it’s a big call – Harp in the South is worthy of being the epic that playwright Kate Mulvany has brought to the stage.

The play is told in two halves which can be seen on one long day, on sequential days, or in different weeks.

The first part – which during previews clocked in at three and three-quarter hours – was full and well-paced. If I hadn’t distracted myself with trying to make it shorter by editing out scenes in my mind, then I would have enjoyed it even more than I already did. I now know the length is just right – so you won’t need to distract yourselves unnecessarily.

The STC cast is, as always, fantastic. Heather Mitchell is the standout of the first half – as the grandmother. She brought the early Surry Hills history to life. Anita Hegh also embodied perfectly the woman of her time. Jack Finsterer, as her husband is a sympathetic character despite his drinking and infidelity.

I haven’t read the Ruth Park novels on which Mulvany based her adaption and perhaps this allowed me to be taken on the journey more easily than those who were recalling the story they had read in their schooldays.

Australian stories are not told often enough, and especially those that document the past without having to hang on a murder, injustice, or other event of historical importance.This is a story of a tightly connected family, and a community, and the hopes and dreams of all those who are a part of it. The main action centres on the strong community built in the streets of Darlinghurst and Surry Hills, the reality of excess drinking, poverty, and Church influence – brought to life by Bruce Spence in a lovely turn as Father Cooley.Like all good stage sagas, all the actors played multiple characters. This added to the feeling of family and familiarity with the audience who travelled with them through the decades – to the eventual path towards gentrification of the area.

You might think you don’t have six hours to spare at the theatre – but I challenge you to find a more enjoyable entertainment that gives you access to a heart and soul snapshot of Sydney, back in the day.

Feature image viz Rene Vaile